On Sunday our expectations came crashing back down to earth as the Browns lost their home opener to the Titans. While the national storylines are likely to be about excessive offseason hype and probably something Odell Beckham Jr. does or says, this was ultimately one game and it was a lot more competitive (for 3/4ths of the game) than the score might indicate. This can still be a playoff team.
These are the three statistics that in my opinion made the biggest impact on the game:
Baker Mayfield: sacked 5 times for 41 yards
This could just as well read “Greg Robinson: one kick to an opposing player’s head and subsequent ejection”. Late in the 2nd quarter with the Browns down 10 to 6, Robinson decided to kick a Titan as he fell to the ground following a late hit. He was obviously ejected, which set off a chain of events that very much hurt what the Browns were doing on offense.
For a period Robinson was replaced by Kendal Lamm, who played fairly well until his lower leg was rolled up under one of the five sacks of Mayfield. Lamm left the game with a knee injury and would not return. That led to brand new Brown and last available offensive lineman Justin McCray entering the game at right tackle, shifting Chris Hubbard to the left side. Hubbard had already been struggling with Cameron Wake on the right, and the results weren’t great. On first watch I thought McCray played ok, but the collective effect of losing two linemen was just too much on the unit.
Somehow even with both Robinson and Lamm out Mayfield engineered a touchdown drive to bring the Browns within 2 after overcoming a 1st and 25 (more on this in a bit). But when the defense gave up a quick score, Baker pressed. Which led to:
Baker Mayfield: 3 INT
Turnovers are simply very hard to overcome in the NFL. As the Browns defense gave up a few scores and the pressure mounted to score quickly, Baker was clearly trying to get the score back in chunks. In order to get the best version of this offense Baker will need to take some risks, but 3 INTs are too many regardless of the situation.
Something exacerbated the sacks and interceptions was the fact that the Browns were so often facing long yardage situations due to:
Cleveland Browns: 18 penalties, 182 yards
This was really the one that stands out to me. That’s simply an absurd amount of penalties and I’m sure is some kind of record.
The attrition on the offensive line and the score and time left in the game were exacerbated as the Browns put themselves into long yardage situations over and over via penalty. Baker pressed and threw risky throws because he had to: the Titans had him in long yardage situations and the Browns needed points. On the other side of the ball, the Titans offense benefited from the Browns’ penalties in the opposite way.
The Titans stayed “on schedule”, the Browns did not, largely due to penalties. In a game where neither offensive line could pass protect consistently, this mattered quite a bit (hat tip to Tony Romo for being an excellent broadcaster and noting this during the game). The Titans were able to stay in situations where play action was believable and the threat of the run was real, while the Browns shot themselves in the foot.
Mayfield reminded us all why we believe in him when he converted a 3rd and 16 by escaping the pocket and delivering a dime to Jarvis Landry for a first down, and then hitting him with an unstoppable back-shoulder pass a few plays later. But that type of play can’t be the gameplan on every dropback.
The Browns gained more yards from scrimmage than the Titans in this game, and largely due to penalties they lost by 30. Let that sink in for a minute.
When Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator last year the Browns were able to keep Baker from getting hit and let him deliver the ball quickly. Getting back to that style of play and avoiding predictable passing situations would go a long way toward righting the ship.